Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin said that the filibuster has a 'death grip on American democracy.'
As momentum grows to eliminate a tool Republicans have used over the years to kill overwhelmingly popular legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday threatened to make the Senate into an unbearably slow and hostile work environment as retribution.
"Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like," the Kentucky senator said in a speech on the Senate floor, referring to what he'd do if Democrats repealed the filibuster, the extended debating tactic that makes it possible for the chamber's minority to block legislation. Invocation of cloture, a move to limit the debate, requires a total of 60 votes to be adopted.
McConnell said he'd require a quorum to be present to conduct even mundane business. That would slow down work in the Senate because it would pull lawmakers from committee hearings and take away time senators have to meet with constituents in their offices in Washington, D.C.
It's a similar tactic to that used by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in recent weeks, as she forced the House of Representatives to vote on motions to adjourn ahead of planned votes on landmark bills such as the COVID-19 relief bill; the pro-LGBTQ Equality Act; and H.R. 1, a government reform bill that would make it easier to vote.
Greene's tactics are angering her own GOP colleagues, who were forced to leave constituent meetings and hearings in order to vote on her procedural motions.
McConnell said that if the filibuster is eliminated, Republicans would respond by repealing bills Democrats passed and then pushing through conservative legislation without any Democratic input if the GOP wins back control of the chamber.
"We wouldn't just erase every liberal change that hurt the country. We'd strengthen America with all kinds of conservative policies with zero — zero — input from the other side," McConnell said.
This is not the first time McConnell has threatened to terrorize the Senate if the filibuster is repealed. He kept Democrats from assuming their positions as the majority party in the Senate in January to demand the filibuster be kept in place, finally giving up the skirmish — but not before delaying Democrats from assuming the majority they rightfully won for a week.
McConnell re-upped his threats on Tuesday, as Democrats signal an openness to making it harder for Republicans to use the filibuster to block any and all legislation.
On Monday, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said that the filibuster has a "death grip on American democracy": "Senators don't even have to stand for one minute to shut down the Senate. All they have to do is to threaten it. ... 'Mr. Smith Phones It In' — that wouldn't have been much of a movie, would it?"
Durbin said he wants senators to be required to stand and speak on the Senate floor indefinitely in order to block a piece of legislation: "If a senator insists on blocking the will of the Senate, he should at least pay the minimal price of being present. No more phoning it in. ... If the Senate retains the filibuster, we must change the rules so that any senator who wants to bring the government to a standstill endures at least some discomfort in the process."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who has said he doesn't support eliminating the filibuster, says he is open to implementing the "talking" filibuster.
"People have to make sure that they're willing to show — it'd be great, don't you think, if someone was down there telling you why they're objecting?" Manchin told Fox News last week.
McConnell, for his part, wants to use the filibuster to block passage of H.R. 1. Known as the For the People Act of 2021, the bill would make it easier to register to vote, allow anyone who wants to vote absentee to do so, limit the implementation of voter ID laws, and block voter roll purges.
Despite making threats to gum up the Senate and pass conservative policies that majorities of voters oppose, McConnell himself was quick to get rid of the filibuster in 2017 in order to confirm Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominees.
McConnell also took advantage of the fact that the filibuster doesn't apply to other judicial nominees to confirm a spate of Trump's right-wing judges to vacancies he had held open during Barack Obama's presidency.
McConnell also got around the filibuster under Trump in 2017 to pass the GOP tax cut bill, which overwhelmingly benefitted the rich and added to the deficit, without measurably benefitting the economy.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.